Stories and science
Diné schools partner with NASA for culturally based science curriculum
After hataalii Johnson Dennison finishes explaining the Navajo version of how the sun travels across the sky, one of the 45 or so teachers in the audience pipes up with what a lot of them must be thinking:
“Some little kindergartener’s going to say, ‘But the sun doesn’t move! The earth revolves around the sun.’”
“That,” responds Dennison, “is also true.”
Faith and science have never been easy bedfellows — just ask Galileo. But perhaps some truth can be found in the uneasy dialog between the two. That is the premise behind an ongoing partnership between Navajo schools and National Aeronautics and Space Administration, which held a conference at Bond Wilson Technical School here Feb. 28 through March 1 that drew science teachers from around the reservation and beyond.
The teachers learn a way of teaching science that doesn’t discredit Navajo traditional beliefs — in fact, it starts with them and looks for a nexus between the traditional stories and empirical knowledge.
For Dennison, there’s no conflict between the two, it’s just two different ways of explaining the observable universe. “It’s a different paradigm,” he tells the teachers. “You don’t have to believe the stories. But that is our elders’ teachings that have sustained us for thousands of years.”